My first shift on board the Red Cross Soup Patrol was not what I expected – although I’m not sure what I thought would happen.

It was a straight forward case of driving, stopping the van, giving out soup and bread rolls to people and then driving to the next location.

What I didn’t expect was the warmth. The warmth from both those in line for possibly their only meal of the day, and the warmth from the volunteers providing soup and kind words.

Theirs is a real gratitude and compassion.

Nearly all our clients were men, all struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps some with mental illness, some who grew up with neglect and without opportunities and some for whom a nine to five job and regular income is out of the question.

There was a girl, maybe eight or nine, excited about the caramel pudding the hospital had provided. A homeless man who told us about his fantastic Christmas at a shelter. A man who, so hungry, ate four cups of soup and three bread rolls faster than you could eat one of each.

Many of these people wait every day, at the same time, for the van to arrive.

We are all one, or perhaps a few, steps away from being someone who needs the service like this. An illness, a bankruptcy, a job loss, the loss of family can bring any of us closer to standing in that line.

It is easy to forget this and we live as though such a catastrophe is not possible. But there are those for whom this is a reality.

What can we do? Care enough to make sure the van still arrives every day to fill their bellies. Care enough to make sure our society always offers that warmth for those who need it.

St John of God Murdoch Hospital Caregiver

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